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One young lad ruled the Great Bicycle Race

POSTED: November 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

There was a big race out at Road Atlanta near Chestnut Mountain this weekend. Across the Winder Highway, stock cars have burned rubber all season long.

North Georgia and particularly Hall County have a long tradition of racing, dating back to when a track operated at the old fairgrounds off Shallowford Road and Looper's Speedway, located on the big bend in the Chattahoochee River where Laurel Park on Lake Lanier is today.

Most of those races featured hopped-up vehicles that stirred up the dust at astonishingly fast speeds for those days.

But there were other races that didn't involve motorized vehicles. Back about 1938, the Great Bicycle Race happened at the fairgrounds track. It was sponsored by Kleckley's Sporting Goods, operated by Larry Kleckley on Main Street just south of what was then the Dixie-Hunt Hotel. He ran a bicycle shop in addition to selling toys and sporting goods.

J.D. Stone remembers the great race well. He ought to; as a young boy he won every race they ran.

Johnny Martin was there, too. Eight years old at the time, he joined the large crowd with his father. "After the first race," Johnny remembers, "it was announced on the public address system that the race winner was J.D. Stone. After each, race the same name was given as the winner. J.D. Stone was the only name I heard that day."

The race took a lunch break, but when it resumed, J.D. couldn't be found. "I went to town on my bicycle," he said. "I got a hot dog and a Coke at Lee Crowe's pool room." That must have helped him because he continued to win the afternoon races.

"Every time I'd come around, Mr. Kleckley would hand me $2 for winning the race," J.D. said. "I ended up with $8; it was more money than I had ever seen."

Fifty-five years later, Martin said, somebody introduced Stone to him in Martin Furniture Co. When he asked him if he was the long-ago bicycle champion, J.D. retold the story of his heroics.

Martin discovered his secret. J.D. at the time had a paper route with the Atlanta Journal. Every day he would pump those bike pedals 17 miles or so to deliver his papers. J.D. lived near Oakwood at the time, and his route ran through that general area.

"No one could beat him riding a bicycle with legs in such great shape as his," Martin said.

Doug Meeks, who used to own the landmark Doug's Drive-In on Atlanta Highway, competed in Gainesville's Great Bicycle Race when he was about 14 or 15. "I didn't get anywhere," he remembers, saying that J.D. Stone outraced everybody.

Martin, too, recalls soap box derby races held for several years in Gainesville. They usually were on the West Washington Street hill that starts about where St. Paul United Methodist Church is. His brother, Cliff, entered one year. When he was trying out his racer, Cliff complained that it needed more weight in the front and asked his brother to crawl up into the nose of it to see if it would help.

Johnny complied, and Cliff started the racer down the North Bradford Street hill from Ridgewood Avenue. When the speeding racer approached their home farther down the street, Cliff steered it toward the driveway but centered an oak tree along the sidewalk instead. Johnny ended up with a big headache that he's never forgotten.

As for bicycle champion J.D. Stone, he's approaching his 85th birthday. He attended Oakwood School, but discontinued his formal education when his father had to quit work because of illness. He helped his parents, then began riding another route - hauling feed and shavings for J.D. Jewell, Inc. - but this time in a truck. He retired in 1993.

Thousands are at this weekend's Road Atlanta race that features drivers and vehicles worth millions of dollars.
The Great Bicycle Race so many years ago doesn't compare in magnitude or money, but for Gainesville at the time, it was a big deal. And the $8 J.D. Stone won on his $10 bicycle was an even bigger thrill for him.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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